Copper Cart restaurant in Seligman, Arizona. ©Joe Sonderman collection

February 18, 1987. In the grand scheme of things that date isn’t as momentous as June 6, 1944 or July 4, 1776. Still, on that cold February day a group of passionate and frustrated visionaries met at the Copper Cart restaurant in Seligman, Arizona. I don’t think that the people attending that meeting had any idea that they were making history.

As it turned this marked the dawn of a new era on Route 66. It was also the beginning of a movement that would transform communities all along the highway corridor, inspire people from throughout the world to dream of a Route 66 odyssey, and ignite a passion with a new generation of entrepreneurs.

I earned the title America’s storyteller on my own. But to earn the the title of “Mr. Route 66” that is used as an introduction on in Britain, I had to stand on the shoulder of giants.

The Giants

One of those giants, one of the pioneers in the birthing of a Route 66 renaissance, was Angel Delgadillo. Born in Seligman, Angel followed in his fathers footsteps. He too became a barber. But last year Angel decided it was time to hang up the barber shears.

Still, at his barbershop that has become a shrine, and in the accompanying gift shop, he still greets the traveler with a smile. His unassuming nature stands in stark contrast to his legacy as the Guardian Angel of Route 66.

Angel is, perhaps, the most famous personality on Route 66. His leadership at that meeting in 1987 resulted in the formation of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. This was the first organization its kind since the U.S. Highway 66 Association established in 1927 closed its doors. He also spearheaded efforts to have the iconic highway in western Arizona designated a scenic byway. And now, a well deserved special exhibit developed by Wade Bray of SRO Agency will soon be unveiled at the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman, Arizona.

The Foundation

Angel and his many contributions is just one brick in the foundation for Jim Hinckley’s America. I am also indebted to prolific author Michael Wallis. Like John Steinbeck in Travels With Charley, Wallis set out in search of America along Route 66 shortly after it was decommissioned. His book Route 66: The Mother Road inspired voyages of discovery on this storied highway. And his contributions to the movie Cars introduced a new generation of international Route 66 enthusiasts to the wonders of the most famous highway in America.

I am also indebted to Jerry McClanahan and Jim Ross. These pioneers are counted among the first historians to chronicle the old highways history and its confusing evolution. They also gave travelers the tools needed to navigate a highway that oficially no longer existed.

By standing on the shoulders of giants I was able to build on their work, and to make my contributions to the Route 66 story. Looking toward the Route 66 centennial and beyond, I wonder if a new generation will see me as a pioneer, a giant whose shoulders they can stand on while they make their contributions.

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